Geography of Madagascar

Learn about the World's Fourth Largest Island

Baobab trees in Madagascar

Jialiang Gao / Getty Images

Madagascar is a large island nation located in the Indian Ocean east of Africa and the country Mozambique. It is the fourth largest island in the world and it is an African country. Madagascar's official name is the Republic of Madagascar. The country is sparsely populated with a population density of only 94 persons per square mile (36 persons per square kilometer). As such, most of Madagascar is undeveloped, incredibly biodiverse forest land. Madagascar is home to 5% of the world's species, many of which are native only to Madagascar.

Fast Facts: Madagascar

  • Official Name: Republic of Madagascar
  • Capital: Antananarivo
  • Population: 25,683,610 (2018)
  • Official Languages: French, Malagasy
  • Currency: Malagasy ariary (MGA)
  • Form of Government: Semi-presidential republic
  • Climate: Tropical along coast, temperate inland, arid in south
  • Total Area: 226,657 square miles (587,041 square kilometers)
  • Highest Point: Maromokotro at 9,436 feet (2,876 meters)
  • Lowest Point: Indian Ocean at 0 feet (0 meters)

History of Madagascar

It is believed that Madagascar was uninhabited until the 1st century CE when sailors from Indonesia arrived on the island. From there, migrations from other Pacific lands as well as Africa increased and various tribal groups began to develop in Madagascar—the largest of which was the Malagasy.

The written history of Madagascar did not begin until the 7th century CE when Arabs began setting up trading posts on the island's northern coastal regions.
European contact with Madagascar did not begin until the 1500s. At that time, Portuguese captain Diego Dias discovered the island while on a voyage to India. In the 17th century, the French established various settlements along the east coast. In 1896, Madagascar officially became a French colony.

Madagascar remained under French control until 1942, when British troops occupied the area during World War II. In 1943, the French retook the island from the British and maintained control until the late 1950s. In 1956, Madagascar began moving toward independence and on October 14, 1958, the Malagasy Republic was formed as an independent state within the French colonies. In 1959, Madagascar adopted its first constitution and achieved full independence on June 26, 1960.

Government of Madagascar

Today, Madagascar's government is considered a republic with a legal system based on French civil law and traditional Malagasy laws.

Madagascar has an executive branch of government that is made up of a chief of state and a head of state, as well as a bicameral legislature consisting of the Senat and the Assemblee Nationale. Madagascar's judicial branch of government is comprised of the Supreme Court and the High Constitutional Court. The country is divided into six provinces (Antananarivo, Antsiranana, Fianarantsoa, Mahajanga, Toamasina, and Toliara) for local administration.

Economics and Land Use in Madagascar

Madagascar's economy is currently growing but at a slow pace. Agriculture is the main sector of the economy and employs about 80% of the country's population. The main agricultural products of Madagascar include coffee, vanilla, sugarcane, cloves, cocoa, rice, cassava, beans, bananas, peanuts, and livestock products. The country does have a small amount of industry, of which the largest are: meat processing, seafood, soap, breweries, tanneries, sugar, textiles, glassware, cement, automobile assembly, paper, and petroleum.

In addition, with the rise of ecotourism, Madagascar has seen a rise in tourism and the related service sector industries.

Geography, Climate, and Biodiversity of Madagascar

Madagascar is considered a part of southern Africa as it is located in the Indian Ocean east of Mozambique. It is a large island that has a narrow coastal plain with a high plateau and mountains in its center. Madagascar's highest mountain is Maromokotro at 9,435 feet (2,876 m).

The climate of Madagascar varies based on location on the island but it is tropical along the coastal regions, temperate inland and arid in the south its portions. Madagascar's capital and largest city, Antananarivo, located in the northern part of the country somewhat away from the coast, has a January average high temperature of 82 degrees (28°C) and a July average low of 50 degrees (10°C).
Madagascar is most well-known around the world for its rich biodiversity and tropical rainforests. The island is home to about 5% of the world's plant and animal species, about 80% of whoch are endemic, or native, only to Madagascar.

These include all species of lemurs and about 9,000 different species of plants. Because of their isolation on Madagascar, many of these endemic species are also threatened or endangered due to increasing deforestation and development. To protect its species, Madagascar has many national parks, and nature and wildlife reserves. In addition, there are several UNESCO certified World Heritage Sites on Madagascar called the Rainforests of the Atsinanana.

More Facts About Madagascar

Madagascar has a life expectancy of 62.9 years. Its official languages are Malagasy and French. Today, Madagascar has 18 Malagasy tribes, as well as groups of French, Indian Comoran, and Chinese people.


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Briney, Amanda. "Geography of Madagascar." ThoughtCo, Sep. 8, 2021, Briney, Amanda. (2021, September 8). Geography of Madagascar. Retrieved from Briney, Amanda. "Geography of Madagascar." ThoughtCo. (accessed June 10, 2023).